Friday, October 16, 2009

The Permaculture Movement: Sustainable and Local Food Modeled on Ecosystems

I’m an ecologist by profession. In my case, this means that I adore slugs, bugs, birds, and local plants. It also means that when it comes to gardening, I’m more interested in fostering the interconnections between plants, animals, soil and water in my garden than I am in creating a garden that is orderly. At least, this is my excuse for having a rather chaotic garden space. In the last decade, I’ve discovered that there is a name for my sort of gardening, the kind that treats the garden as an ecosystem and focuses on sustainable food instead of orderly rows of produce. This gardening mindset is called permaculture, and it’s attracting world changers who want to grow and eat sustainable local food.

The term permaculture was coined by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. Mollison is an Australian with a passion for growing food in the most challenging of conditions. Like ecology, permaculture is a term that encompasses the human and nonhuman, the biotic and the abiotic worlds. It includes horticulture, architecture, economics, and ecology. The meaning has been framed as “permanent culture” and “permanent agriculture.” Permaculture is a human-created food system that works with the land and works to keep the soil, air, and water healthy and productive across multiple generations. Unlike agricultural systems that take from the land and degrade it, a permaculture garden builds a thriving ecosystem that is very productive. It moves beyond sustainability an reframes humanity’s relationship with the earth into one in which people are not takers, but builders of a lush and thriving world.

What does permaculture look like on the ground? Well, for those who build a garden or a farm on permaculture principles model that garden or farm on the local ecosystem. What builds the soil? Where is the water stored, and how does it flow around the site? What sorts of plants are suitable for the climate, and how can they exist in relationships that are mutually beneficial? Plants might feed each other, grow on each other, or take turns flowering and fruiting and composting throughout the seasons. Permaculture gardeners see animals not as pests but as part of the sustainable food ecosystem: they are pollinators, recyclers, and predators who help build a thriving source of food. A permaculture garden is not generally tidy, with organized rows of one type of vegetable ready to be harvested.

Many have moved on from the permaculture ethic of sustainable food to a permaculture look at world cultures. How can an economy be growing, thriving, and self-sustaining and bring more to the earth than it takes? How can we build a medical system that helps people stay well and heal through connections with the earth? How can our living areas and our transportation give back to the earth – could houses power themselves and create habitat for animals? Permaculture is more than a sustainable food system. It is a way of thinking about our relationship with the planet in a new way, one that views people as beneficial, rather than detrimental to our planet, should we choose to be so.

1 comment:

  1. I first heard about permaculture in 1999 when I was looking for a way to live lightly on the earth, since then I have taken classes in permaculture design and done my best to apply the principles to my daily living.